Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 17 August 2009
Page: 7991

Mr OAKESHOTT (4:10 PM) —I rise to support this Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2009 and the related bill. I am fascinated by the continuation of the political debate that has been going on around this suite of legislation and the positioning of who is and who is not politically serious. This is without doubt—and I would hope there is broad agreement—the natural resource management question of our time, and when you drill down into the detail with regard to various positions there is not a lot of difference. I would hope that legislation such as this can move through this chamber quickly so that we can get certainty in the marketplace for the renewable energy industry.

I know there has been debate going on about the coupling and decoupling of various pieces of legislation, and we are seeing a decoupling before us today. I would like to think the real test will be a recoupling with regard to the private member’s bill that I have put forward and which is currently before this House. It is called the Renewable Energy Amendment (Feed-in-Tariff for Electricity) Bill 2009 and it is about trying to get a national feed-in tariff system up and running within Australia. If we are having honesty tests about who is serious and who is not serious with regard to genuinely engaging people in a renewable energy future, I think the fact that the feed-in tariffs and the concept of a national feed-in tariff system are being overlooked at this point is certainly a great shame with regard to setting up a policy framework for the future.

Most of the states have now introduced their own variations of feed-in tariff schemes. The ACT probably has the most progressive, with a gross scheme, New South Wales has a net scheme and most states have now responded with their own state based variation of that theme with different pricing attached. If we think about the real point of forming a Commonwealth to get around absurdities like not being able to catch the one train around Australia because of variations in rail gauge, this is a modern equivalent happening on this government’s watch. We have feed-in tariff systems being established with variations amongst all the various states and territories. So a retailer, for example, offering the same product to a household is going to have different billing systems in place if they offer it in Tuggeranong versus whether they offer it in Queanbeyan. Surely this is an opportunity for national leadership. Surely this is an opportunity, if we are being serious about renewable energies and the renewable industry, to engage people in this process and to establish a national feed-in tariff system so that we can build a future that is as green as possible in the development of a new economy. So I will watch very closely with regard to my own coupling. Whilst both sides will, I imagine, support this legislation going through as far as setting some broad targets, I think the proof will be in the pudding in the next couple of days when we see where people sit on a private member’s bill looking at a national feed-in tariff system.

With regard to the particulars of this legislation, it is a bit of a no-brainer to be supporting this. I think it is certainly long overdue. It is not owned by one side of this debate or the other. I know that there is positioning going on, from the speeches that I have heard so far and from public comments that I have heard so far. The genesis of this does go back to the previous government, with the mandatory renewable energy targets, so I hope I am right to assume that both sides are generally holding hands on the concept of renewable energy targets. We can debate the concept of the size of the target—20 per cent by 2020—and we can debate the demands of the various renewable energy trade-exposed industries and the various vested interests getting their claws into the public policy process. We can debate the rights and wrongs of that and whether this legislation, like others in this suite of CPRS legislation, has been browned down. But, in the end, I think this is as good as we are going to get through the public policy debate and through these two houses. Hopefully we can see this in the marketplace as quickly as possible so that we can start to see some certainty in the many renewable industries that are wanting to do business within Australia.

On that point, I continue to want to break the conflict that seems to be raised in this chamber about the choice of either a clean future or an economy and jobs. I think that is wrong in the framing of this debate. There are many, many jobs attached to the green economies of the future, and we are starting to see some of those in the marketplace already. This is very much a jobs, jobs, jobs piece of legislation that we have before us, even if it is a renewable energy piece of legislation.

If the CSIRO are to be believed—they are talking about a couple of million jobs within the renewable industries in the next 15 to 20 years—we need to be serious in the development of public policy and not afraid to engage in the development of a new economy as we try to establish a market based response to the natural resource management question of our time. It is probably on that point that I raise some continuing concerns about vested interests in the public policy process and what I am seeing as a reinterpretation of the welfare-capitalist state called Australia. When we formed the Commonwealth the concept was supposed to be a safety net that was developed to assist those within the community who are in genuine need—individuals in the community who we as Australians did not want to leave behind. In this debate and in these times, it seems that this is being reinterpreted. When it comes to the natural resources questions in this suite of legislation on natural resource management and climate change, welfare seems to be distributed quite generously to business and it is capitalism for the rest. It seems to be that the safety net is now for the polluters—not for the poor, not for those who are in genuine need in our community. This debate, the policy framing and the discussions that dominate this place and the other place seem to be shaped predominantly around the interests of not an unimportant group within Australia but not the only group within Australia. I do want to start to prick the conscience of a few within the executive to really start to think about who is driving this debate at the moment and who should be leading into the future.

It is something of a myth that we are an energy superpower. It is a term that was used by the previous Prime Minister and it is a term that seems to have been welcomed and adopted by the current regime. We are all in politics, and we love talking it up, but on such an important policy issue we need to be realistic. The industries that are looking for the majority of the subsidies and that are putting the blockers on most of this legislation are, in reality, about eight per cent of our national GDP. They employ about 1.3 per cent of our market. They are majority foreign owned. Look at some of the major mining companies within Australia. BHP Billiton is no longer the big Australian; it is overseas-owned. Rio Tinto, Xstrata, Anglo Coal, even Cement Australia are not Australian owned. My understanding is that Cement Australia is owned by the British, the Swiss and the Mexicans. Queensland Gas and Queensland Alumina are British owned or Russian owned. Japan Australia LNG is a Japanese company. These are players who seem to be capturing the majority of the debate before us today and dominating the thinking of those within the executive who are trying to push through this legislation.

I would ask that the other contributors to national productivity be given a look-in, and they are the people of Australia. They are people like those in the services industry, which is about 75 per cent of GDP. For example, more people work in restaurants and cafes in Australia than do in the entire mining industry. That might surprise some people when they think about what they have heard in this debate over the last couple of months. Where are the subsidies for the cafe worker, the restaurant worker and the restaurant owner as we move forward in this difficult debate before us?

I raise these points again and I repeat: these are not unimportant industries that I am talking about but they are not the only industries and they are not the only voices in this debate. The companies that seem to be dominating this debate at present have already been pinged once. There was a very good article in the Australian Financial Review that raised some comparisons between the lobbying messages on some of these issues that the companies are putting up with regard to impacts on their companies versus the messages they are putting to shareholders and their current state in the marketplace—two very distinct messages.

I raise the same point, or a similar point, in regard to messages from some of these companies within Australia versus some of their activities offshore, and they are two very distinct messages that we are seeing from the very same companies. They are saying the economic sky is going to fall in within Australia if some of these changes happen, when they are intimately and very successfully involved overseas in developing their businesses—in areas such as aluminium, which was raised by one of the previous speakers—with the use of renewable technology. One of the key aspects of smelting aluminium is the use of a good, reliable water source. That is, in essence, a renewable energy answer. Companies in Australia that at times are complaining about some of these renewable energy targets and the move to a new economy are exactly the same companies who overseas in various locations are very successfully and very proactively developing the delivery of exactly the same smelting using hydro power and various renewable solutions. I hope that government is aware of this and that it is calling some of these companies on some of these issues.

And I hope that Australia does not miss the boat. The future economy in regard to energy will be intimately involved in the use of renewable energy. We need to capture it. We need to, where possible, lead on it. We have some great potential in this country. Whether it be the sun, whether it be water, whether it be wind, whether it be geothermal—you name it—we have an abundance of renewable energy opportunities and potential. The only issue that seems to be holding us up is the public policy debate, which is being dragged into the political mosh pit by the vested interests who are trying to protect their various interests in an economy past. I would hope, as we move forward and as we try and get some consensus in this chamber and in the other on not only this renewable energy legislation but the suite of legislation, that we all recognise that in the end we are custodians of building the economy of the future.

Yes, there are some voices—which are not unimportant and which need to be listened to—saying that, where possible, transitional support needs to be provided. But they are not the only voices in this debate. Over the last couple of weeks in particular we have heard some of those voices dominate and some of those voices significantly influence the positions of various members of parliament and political parties as they take a position generally on climate change and in particular on pieces of legislation as they go through this chamber.

It is a no-brainer that I hope this legislation has the support of this place. I hope it gets the support of the other place. I hope that in the future as a group of MPs we can look at increasing targets, lessening subsidies and pushing for greater involvement in a renewable energy industry Australia, because I think it is in our broad economic interests that we do so. It is in the interests of future job opportunities to do so. It is part of our international obligation as good citizens to do so as well. So I certainly support this legislation.